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The Rat Wife

HSI SHAN was a native of Kao-mi, and a trader by occupation. He frequently slept at a place called Meng-i. One day he was delayed on the road by rain, and when he arrived at his usual quarters it was already late in the night. He knocked at all the doors, but no one answered; and he was walking backwards and forwards in the piazza when suddenly a door flew open and an old man came out. He invited the traveller to enter, an invitation to which Hsi Shan gladly responded; and, tying up his mule, he went in. The place was totally unfurnished; and the old man began by saying that it was only out of compassion that he had asked him in, as his house was not an inn. "There are only three or four of us," added he; "and my wife and daughter are fast asleep. We have some of yesterday's food, which I will get ready for you; you must not object to its being cold." He then went within, and shortly afterwards returned with a low couch, which he placed on the ground, begging his guest to be seated, at the same time hurrying back for a low table, and soon for a number of other things, until at last Hsi Shan was quite uncomfortable, and entreated his host to rest himself awhile. By-and-by a young lady came out, bringing some wine; upon which the old man said, "Oh, our A-ch'ien has got up." She was about sixteen or seventeen, a slender and pretty-looking girl; and as Hsi Shan had an unmarried brother, he began to think directly that she would do for him. So he inquired of the old man his name and address, to which the latter replied that his name was Ku, and that his children had all died save this one daughter. "I didn't like to wake her just now, but I suppose my wife told her to get up." Hsi Shan then asked the name of his son-in-law, and was informed that the young lady was not yet engaged, at which he was secretly very much pleased. A tray of food was now brought in, evidently the remains from the day before; and when he had finished eating, Hsi Shan began respectfully to address the old man as follows: "I am only a poor wayfarer, but I shall never forget the kindness with which you have treated me. Let me presume upon it, and submit to your consideration a plan I have in my head. My younger brother, San-lang, is seventeen years old. He is a student, and by no means unsteady or dull. May I hope that you will unite our families together, and not think it presumption on my part?" "I, too, am but a temporary sojourner," replied the old man, rejoicing; "and if you will only let me have a part of your house, I shall be very glad to come and live with you." Hsi Shan consented to this, and got up and thanked him for the promise of his daughter; upon which the old man set to work to make him comfortable for the night, and  then went away. At cock-crow he was outside, calling his guest to come and have a wash; and when Hsi Shan had packed up ready to go, he offered to pay for his night's entertainment. This, however, the old man refused, saying, "I could hardly charge a stranger anything for a single meal; how much less could I take money from my intended son-in-law?" They then separated, and in about a month Hsi Shan returned; but when he was a short distance from the village he met an old woman with a young lady, both dressed in deep mourning. As they approached he began to suspect it was A-ch'ien; and the young lady, after turning round to look at him, pulled the old woman's sleeve, and whispered something in her ear, which Hsi Shan himself did not hear. The old woman stopped immediately, and asked if she was addressing Mr. Hsi; and when informed that she was, she said mournfully, "Alas! my husband has been killed by the falling of a wall. We are going to bury him to-day. There is no one at home; but please wait here, and we will be back by-and-by." They then disappeared among the trees; and, returning after a short absence, they walked along together in the dusk of the evening. The old woman complained bitterly of their lonely and helpless state, and Hsi Shan himself was moved to compassion by the sight of her tears. She told him that the people of the neighbourhood were a bad lot, and that if he thought of marrying the poor widow's daughter, he had better lose no time in doing so. Hsi Shan said he was willing; and when they reached the house the old woman, after lighting the lamp and setting food before him, proceeded to speak as follows: "Knowing, Sir, that you would shortly arrive, we sold all our grain except about twenty piculs. We cannot take this with us so far; but a mile or so to the north of the village, at the first house you come to, there lives a man named T'an Erh-ch'uan, who often buys grain from me. Don't think it too much trouble to oblige me by taking a sack with you on your mule and proceeding thither at once. Tell Mr. T'an that the old lady of the southern village has several piculs of grain which she wishes to sell in order to get money for a journey, and beg him to send some animals to carry it." The old woman then gave him a sack of grain; and Hsi Shan, whipping up his mule, was soon at the place; and, knocking at the door, a great fat fellow came out, to whom he told his errand. Emptying the sack he had brought, he went back himself first; and before long a couple of men arrived leading five mules. The old woman took them into the granary, which was a cellar below ground, and Hsi Shan, going down himself, handed up the bags to the mother and daughter, who passed them on from one to the other. In a little while the men had got a load, with which they went off, returning altogether four times before all the grain was exhausted. They then paid the old woman, who kept one man and two mules, and, packing up her things, set off towards the east. After travelling some seven miles day began to break; and by-and-by they reached a market town, where the old woman hired animals and sent back T'an's servant. When they arrived at Hsi Shan's home he related the whole story to his parents, who were very pleased at what had happened, and provided separate apartments for the old lady, at the same time engaging a fortune-teller to fix on a lucky day for A-ch'ien's marriage with their son San-lang. The old woman prepared a handsome trousseau; and as for A-ch'ien herself, she spoke but little, seldom losing her temper, and if any one addressed her she would only reply with a smile. She employed all her time in spinning, and thus became a general favourite with all alike. "Tell your brother," said she to San-lang, "that when he happens to pass our old residence he will do well not to make any mention of my mother and myself."

In three or four years' time the Hsi family had made plenty of money, and San-lang had taken his bachelor's degree, when one day Hsi Shan happened to pass a night with the people who lived next door to the house where he had met A-ch'ien. After telling them the story of his having had nowhere to sleep, and taking refuge with the old man and woman, his host said to him, "You must make a mistake, Sir; the house you allude to belongs to my uncle, but was abandoned three years ago in consequence of its being haunted. It has now been uninhabited for a long time. What old man and woman can have entertained you there?" Hsi Shan was very much astonished at this, but did not put much faith in what he heard; meanwhile his host continued, "For ten years no one dared enter the house; however, one day the back wall fell down, and my uncle, going to look at it, found, half-buried underneath the ruins, a large rat, almost as big as a cat. It was still moving, and my uncle went off to call for assistance, but when he got back the rat had disappeared. Everyone suspected some supernatural agency to be at work, though on returning to the spot ten days afterwards nothing was to be either heard or seen; and about a year subsequently the place was inhabited once more." Hsi Shan was more than ever amazed at what he now heard, and on reaching home told the family what had occurred; for he feared that his brother's wife was not a human being, and became rather anxious about him. San-lang himself continued to be much attached to A-ch'ien; but by-and-by the other members of the family let A-ch'ien perceive that they had suspicions about her. So one night she complained to San-lang, saying, "I have been a good wife to you for some years: now I have become an object of contempt. I pray you give me my divorce, and seek for yourself some worthier mate." She then burst into a flood of tears; whereupon San-lang said, "You should know my feelings by this time. Ever since you entered the house the family has prospered; and that prosperity is entirely due to you. Who can say it is not so?" "I know full well," replied A-ch'ien, "what you feel; still there are the others, and I do not wish to share the fate of an autumn fan." At length San-lang succeeded in pacifying her; but Hsi Shan could not dismiss the subject from his thoughts, and gave out that he was going to get a first-rate mouser, with a view to testing A-ch'ien. She did not seem very frightened at this, though evidently ill at ease; and one night she told San-lang that her mother was not very well, and that he needn't come to bid her good night as usual. In the morning mother and daughter had disappeared; at which San-lang was greatly alarmed, and sent out to look for them in every direction. No traces of the fugitives could be discovered, and San-lang was overwhelmed with grief, unable either to eat or to sleep. His father and brother thought it was a lucky thing for him, and advised him to console himself with another wife. This, however, he refused to do; until, about a year afterwards, nothing more having been heard of A-ch'ien, he could not resist their importunities any longer, and bought himself a concubine. But he never ceased to think of A-ch'ien; and some years later, when the prosperity of the family was on the wane, they all began to regret her loss.

Now San-lang had a step-brother, named Lan, who, when travelling to Chiao-chou on business, passed a night at the house of a relative named Lu. He noticed that during the night sounds of weeping and lamentation proceeded from their next-door neighbours, but he did not inquire the reason of it; however, on his way back he heard the same sounds, and then asked what was the cause of such demonstrations. Mr. Lu told him that a few years ago an old widow and her daughter had come there to live, and that the mother had died about a month previously, leaving her child quite alone in the world. Lan inquired what her name was, and Mr. Lu said it was Ku; "But," added he, "the door is closely barred, and as they never had any communication with the village, I know nothing of their antecedents." "It's my sister-in-law," cried Lan, in amazement, and at once proceeded to knock at the door of the house. Some one came to the front door, and said, in a voice that betokened recent weeping, "Who 's there? There are no men in this house." Lan looked through a crack, and saw that the young lady really was his sister-in-law; so he called out, "Sister, open the door. I am your step-brother A-sui." A-ch'ien immediately opened the door and asked him in, and recounted to him the whole story of her troubles. "Your husband," said Lan, "is always thinking of you. For a trifling difference you need hardly have run away so far from him." He then proposed to hire a vehicle and take her home; but A-ch'ien replied, "I came hither with my mother to hide because I was held in contempt, and should make myself ridiculous by now returning thus. If I am to go back, my elder brother Hsi Shan must no longer live with us; otherwise, I will assuredly poison myself." Lan then went home and told San-lang, who set off and travelled all night until he reached the place where A-ch'ien was. Husband and wife were overjoyed to meet again, and the following day San-lang notified the landlord of the house where A-ch'ien had been living. Now this landlord had long desired to secure A-ch'ien as a concubine for himself; and, after making no claim for rent for several years, he began to hint as much to her mother. The old lady, however, refused flatly; but shortly afterwards she died, and then the landlord thought that he might be able to succeed. At this juncture San-lang arrived, and the landlord sought to hamper him by putting in his claim for rent; and, as San-lang was anything but well off at the moment, it really did annoy him very much. A-ch'ien here came to the rescue, showing San-lang a large quantity of grain she had in the house, and bidding him use it to settle accounts with the landlord. The latter declared he could not accept grain, but must be paid in silver; whereupon A-ch'ien sighed and said it was all her unfortunate self that had brought this upon them, at the same time telling San-lang of the landlord's former proposition. San-lang was very angry, and was about to take out a summons against him, when Mr. Lu interposed, and, by selling the grain in the neighbourhood, managed to collect sufficient money to pay off the rent. San-lang and his wife then returned home; and the former, having explained the circumstances to his parents, separated his household from that of his brother. A-ch'ien now proceeded to build, with her own money, a granary, which was a matter of some astonishment to the family, there not being a hundredweight of grain in the place. But in about a year the granary was full, and before very long San-lang was a rich man, Hsi Shan remaining as poor as before. Accordingly, A-ch'ien persuaded her husband's parents to come and live with them, and made frequent presents of money to the elder brother; so that her husband said, "Well, at any rate, you bear no malice." "Your brother's behaviour," replied she, "was from his regard for you. Had it not been for him, you and I would never have met." After this there were no more supernatural manifestations.

阿纖

奚山者,高密人。貿販為業,往往客蒙沂之間。一日,途中阻雨,及至所常宿處,而夜已深,遍叩肆門。無有應者。徘徊廡下。忽二扉豁開,一叟出,便納客入,山喜從之。縶蹇登客,堂上迄無几榻。叟曰:「我憐客無歸,故相容納。我實非賣食沽飲者。家中無多手指,惟有老荊弱女,眠熟矣。雖有宿肴,苦少烹鬻,勿嫌冷啜也。」言已,便入。少頃,以足床來,置地上,促客坐;又入,攜一短足几至:拔來報往,蹀躞甚勞。山起坐不自安,曳令暫息。少間,一女郎出行酒。叟顧曰:「我家阿纖興矣。」視之,年十六七,窈窕秀弱,風致嫣然。山有少弟未婚,竊屬意焉。因詢叟清貫尊閥,答云:「士虛,姓古。子孫皆夭折,剩有此女。適不忍攪其酣睡,想老荊喚起矣。」問:「婿家阿誰?」答言:「未字。」山竊喜。既而品味雜陳,似所宿具。食已,致恭而言曰:「萍水之人,遂蒙寵惠,沒齒所不敢忘。緣翁盛德,乃敢遽陳朴魯:僕有幼弟三郎,十七歲矣。讀書肆業,頗不頑冥。欲求援繫,不嫌寒賤否?」叟喜曰:「老夫在此,亦是僑寓。倘得相託,便假一廬,移家而往,庶免懸念。」山都應之,遂起展謝。叟殷勤安置而去。雞既鳴,叟已出,呼客盥沐。束裝已,酬以飯金。固辭曰:「客留一飯,萬無受金之理;矧附為婚姻乎?」既別,客月餘,乃返。去村里餘,遇老媼率一女郎,冠服盡素。既近,疑似阿纖。女郎亦頻轉顧,因把媼袂,附耳不知何辭。媼便停步,向山曰:「君奚姓耶?」山唯唯。媼慘然曰:「不幸老翁壓於敗堵,今將上墓。家虛無人,請少待路側,行即還也。」遂入林去,移時始來。途已昏冥,遂與偕行。道其孤弱,不覺哀啼;山亦酸惻。媼曰:「此處人情大不平善,孤孀難以過度。阿纖既為君家婦,過此恐遲時日,不如早夜同歸。」山可之。既至家,媼挑燈供客已,謂山曰:「意君將至,儲粟都已糶去;尚存廿餘石,遠莫致之。北去四五里,村中第一門,有談二泉者,是吾售主。君勿憚勞,先以尊乘運一囊去,叩門而告之,但道南村古姥有數石粟,糶作路用,煩驅蹄躈一致之也。」即以囊粟付山。山策蹇去,叩戶,一碩腹男子出,告以故,傾囊先歸。俄有兩夫以五騾至。媼引山至粟所,乃在窖中。山下為操量執概,母放女收,頃刻盈裝,付之以去。凡四返而粟始盡。既而以金授媼。媼留其一人二畜,治任遂東。行二十里,天始曙。至一市,市頭賃騎,談僕乃返。既歸,山以情告父母。相見甚喜,即以別第館媼,卜吉為三郎完婚。媼治匳妝甚備。阿纖寡言少怒;或與語,但有微笑;晝夜績織無停晷:以是上下悉憐悅之。囑三郎曰:「寄語大伯:再過西道,勿言吾母子也。」居三四年,奚家益富,三郎入泮矣。一日,山宿古之舊鄰,偶及曩年無歸,投宿翁媼之事。主人曰:「客悞矣。東鄰為阿伯別第,三年前,居者輒睹怪異,故空廢甚久,有何翁媼相留?」山甚訝之,而未深言。主人又曰:「此宅向空十年,無敢入者。一日,第後牆傾,伯往視之,則石壓巨鼠如貓,尾在外猶搖。急歸,呼眾共往,則已渺矣。群疑是物為妖。後十餘日,復入試,寂無形聲;又年餘,始有居人。」山益奇之。歸家私語,竊疑新婦非人,陰為三郎慮;而三郎篤愛如常。久之,家中人紛相猜議。女微察之,夜中語三郎曰:「妾從君數載,未嘗少失婦德;今置之不以人齒。請賜離婚書,聽君自擇良耦。」因泣下。三郎曰:「區區寸心,宜所夙知。自卿入門,家日益豐,咸以福澤歸卿,烏得有異言?」女曰:「君無二心,妾豈不知;但眾口紛紜,恐不免秋扇之捐。」三郎再四慰解,乃已。山終不釋,日求善撲之貓,以覘其意。女雖不懼,然蹙蹙不快。一夕,謂媼小恙,辭三郎省侍之。天明,三郎往訊。則室已空。駭極,使人於四途蹤跡之,並無消息。中心營營,寢食都廢。而父兄皆以為幸,交慰藉之,將為續婚;而三郎殊不懌。俟又年餘,音問已絕;父兄輒相誚責,不得已,以重金買妾,然思阿纖不衰。又數年,奚家日漸貧,由是咸憶阿纖。有叔弟嵐以故至膠,迂道宿表戚陸生家。夜聞鄰哭甚哀,未遑詰問。既返,復聞之,因問主人。答云:「數年前,有寡母孤女,僦居於是。月前姥死,女獨處,無一線之親,是以哀耳。」問:「何姓?」曰:「姓古。嘗閉戶不與里社通,故未悉其家世。」嵐驚曰:「是吾嫂也!」因往款扉。有人揮涕出,隔扉應曰:「客何人?我家故無男子。」嵐隙窺而遙審之,果嫂。便曰:「嫂啟關,我是叔家阿遂。」女聞之,拔關納入,訴其孤苦,意悽慘悲懷。嵐曰:「三兄憶念頗苦。夫妻即有乖迕,何遂遠遁至此?」即欲賃輿同歸。女愴然曰:「我以人不齒數故,遂與母偕隱;今又返而依人,誰不加白眼?如欲復還,當與大兄分炊;不然,行乳藥求死耳!」嵐既歸,以告三郎。三郎星夜馳去。夫妻相見,各有涕洟。次日,告其屋主。屋主謝監生,窺女美,陰欲圖致為妾,數年不取其值;頻風示媼,媼絕之。媼死,竊幸可媒,而三郎忽至。通計房租以留難之。三郎家故不豐,聞金多,頗有憂色。女言:「不妨。」引三郎視倉儲,約粟三十餘石,償租有餘。三郎喜,以告謝。謝不受粟,故索金。女歎曰:「此皆妾身之惡幛也!」遂以其情告三郎。三郎怒,將訴於邑。陸氏止之,為散粟於里黨,斂資償謝,以車送兩人歸。三郎實告父母,與兄析居。阿纖出私金,日建倉廩,而家中尚無儋石,共奇之。年餘驗視,則倉中盈矣。不數年,家大富;而山苦貧。女移翁姑自養之;輒以金粟周兄,狃以為常。三郎喜曰:「聊可云不念舊惡矣。」女曰:「彼自愛弟耳。且非渠,妾何緣識三郎哉?」後亦無甚怪異。

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